The team was one win away.
One win away from a title opportunity. One win away from going head-to-head with the best team in the conference. One win away from redemption.
After being upset by Northern Illinois in the winners bracket of the 2018 Mid-American Conference tournament, Ball State Softball won three straight games and advanced to the final game of the losers bracket getting a chance to play for the MAC title. However, the Cardinals fell to the Huskies once again, handing Ball State a loss and ending their season.
“Third place was definitely not our goal last year, and is definitely not our goal this year,” senior pitcher Aeshia Miles said. “It stung us for awhile, especially for that senior class. We wanted to win for them, but that’s been our motivation for this year. Third place isn’t good enough.”
Since that loss, the team hasn’t taken less than a week off in order to get right back to where they were. For nine months, the team has kept that memory in their head and used the loss to drive them into the 2019 season.
“The vast majority of our returners didn’t take any time off,” head coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett said. “I made them take a week off at the end of the season, but a lot of them stayed for the first week of summer school and got right back to work ... It gave us a lot of confirmation that what we’re doing here is special, it’s working and when it comes to fruition, the final product will be a championship.”
One point of concern for the team last season was in the circle. While pitching was strong, there were only three pitchers that rotated. At one point, then senior Carolyn Wilmes was out with injury leaving only Miles and junior pitcher Alyssa Rothwell to hold it down inside the circle. Coming into this season, it’s an entirely different story.
Along with bringing back Miles and Rothwell, the Cardinals will see the return of redshirt sophomore pitcher Darcie Huber after she sat out last season due to a hip injury. Huber started 18 of 23 appearances her freshman season before her injury. Ball State will also welcome on two freshman pitchers: Sarah Venker and Tieghan Morio.
“This will be Darcie’s second season, so she’s in the fold and knows how it goes,” Miles said. “Darcie is a competitor and Sarah and Tieghan are as well. When it’s their time, they’re going to take advantage of the innings they receive. Last season we had 55 plus games, so they will get in the mix a lot for sure.”
At home plate, the Cardinals are working off the loss of Maddy Labrador. Labrador led the team with an RBI of 49 batting home 40 runs and a team second best 12 home runs. She was also one of three players who was named All-MAC first team last season.
However, Ball State isn’t letting the subtraction of Labrador phase them. Bartlett said the team is looking to sophomore Stacy Payton to fill Labrador’s void at second base and a young core to step up on offense.
“We’re going to do our best,” Bartlett said. “The most amazing thing about this program is how much better those who stay, buy in and grind have gotten every single year. It’s going to be tough to replace her. She’s a great kid and a tremendous hitter, but the show must go on.”
Heading veteran leadership is junior outfielder Haley Dominique. She was named to the All-MAC first team leading the Cardinals in hits with 68 and runs with 43. Dominique also holds .474 base percentage which ranks at 80th in the NCAA.
“I’m trying to work on my power numbers this season working on hitting doubles and home runs,” Dominique said. “I want to drive more people in. It definitely sounds like right now that i’m going to be leading off, so I’m just trying to get on base for my team at this point and if I do have the opportunity to hit people in, I’m going to do that.”
Like most college teams, the Cardinals will fly south for the first month of the season and will see some of the top teams in the nation in Penn State, Iowa and No. 9 South Carolina. Ball State is predicted to fair well in the eyes of MAC voters as the preseason poll predicted the Cardinals would win the MAC regular season title and the MAC championship.
While it is a long season, the team is has high hopes that this year is different. They are confident that they are equipped for success in 2019.
“We are going to play hard and we’re going to play big,” Bartlett said. “It’s going to be exciting, dynamic and powerful softball to watch. We’re going to be tough on the mound, so not only do we have kids that aren’t only going to be gritty and grind, but they’re going to be dynamic. In a word, it’s going to be dynamic and exciting.”
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